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Heather,

Have you considered giving him a Learning Style Inventory?  When I've
worked with students who sound like John, I've found that they have a
high kinesthetic preference, so they do well on tests in classes that
involve doing problems (i.e., manipulating the information) on an almost
daily basis.  Along with the basic things that have been helpful (active
reading, reviewing notes on a daily basis), encouraging the students to
create practice tests seems to have helped not only with information
familiarity and retention but also with building up the self-confidence.

Hope this helps.

Patricia Bright
Director, Student Resource Center
Washington & Jefferson College
Washington, PA